Thursday, August 7, 2008

Review: In Hovering Flight

Summary: At 34, Scarlet Kavanagh has the kind of homecoming no child wishes, a visit back to family and dear friends for the gentle passing of her mother, Addie, a famous bird artist and an even more infamous environmental activist. Though Addie and her husband, ornithologist Tom Kavanagh, have made their life in southeastern Pennsylvania, Addie has chosen to die at the New Jersey home of her dearest friend, Cora. This is because the Kavanagh's ramshackle cottage is filled with too much history and because, in the last ten years or so, and for reasons that are not entirely clear, even bird song has seemed to make Addie angry, or sad, or both. Now, in their final moments together, Scarlet hopes to put to rest the last tensions that have marked their relationship.

Through tender conversations with Cora and Lou, another of Addie's dear friends, Scarlet slowly comes to peace with her mother's complicated life. But she can do the same with her own? Scarlet has carried a secret into these foggy days-a secret for Addie, one that involves Cora, too.

In its structure and style this novel follows in the tradition of writers like Virginia Woolf, Harriet Doerr, and Carol Shields: musical and dramatic, with myriad stories and voices. But the evocative language of this soaring novel is Hinnefeld's own. -- Unbridled Books

I have to admit that I'm not sure that I would have ever picked up IN HOVERING FLIGHT by Joyce Hinnefeld if my friends at Unbridled Books hadn't sent me a copy with a very persuasive cover letter. The letter did make it sound very interesting and the cover is gorgeous. Since I have thoroughly enjoyed the other books that I've read from Unbridled Books, I thought I'd give it a try. Boy, am I glad I did!

This book was rich and beautifully written, and it touched me deeply. It might be because I have a daughter, but I was very much affected by Addie and Scarlet and the issues between them. The novel starts out with Addie's death and Scarlet's desire to understand her mother and their tenuous relationship. It was even more poignant to me because Scarlet had just found out she was expecting her first child. At this time of her life, when every woman needs her mother, Scarlet is forced to not only deal with the loss of Addie, but also must learn to accept her for who she was.

I really liked how the author told the story. The story is told in 3rd person narrative, and goes back and forth between present day and earlier times in Addie's and Scarlet's lives. I thought this was a very effective way to learn about the characters and really understand them. There were also snippets of Addie's journal entries incorporated into the novel. One of my favorite things about this novel was how the author dealt with Addie's journal entries from the first few weeks after she met Tom. While Scarlet had all of Addie's journals except this one, she had to imagine what this journal said. What a unique way to show Scarlet's thoughts as she tried to understand her mother.

The characters in this book were very memorable to me, mainly because they were so complicated and somewhat flawed. Addie suffered from bouts of depression and eventually became involved in environmental causes -- often times to the detriment of her marriage and Charlotte. Scarlet was in her early 30s but still confused about many relationships in her life. Tom, Addie's husband and Scarlet's father, chose to deal with his issues by becoming obsessed with his work. Even the supporting characters were flawed; however, the characters still resonated with me and seemed realistic.

It's very clear that the author did a tremendous amount of research on birds before she set out to write this novel. Let me just say that I am not a huge bird lover. In fact I kind of flip out if they come near me (except I do like to look at flamingos), but I loved how the author "used" birds and the symbolism of birds in this story. She incorporated the themes of birds, soaring, flying, etc. into this book; and I thought it was very well done.

Ms. Hinnefeld is an Associate Professor of Writing at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA (not too far away so maybe I can consider her a local writer.) She has written numerous short stories, some of which are award-winning; but IN HOVERING FLIGHT is her first novel. I was blown away by her writing and how beautiful her prose was. This book is a pretty impressive debut, and I look forward to reading more of her books in the future.

IN HOVERING FLIGHT will be available on September 16th. I really liked reading this novel; but if you still need more positive reviews to convince you, there are many out there. It has already been chosen as the #1 September Indie Next Pick and it was included in the August 4th Publishers Weekly feature on Indie Surprises. In addition, Publishers Weekly gave it a glowing review calling it, "Provocative and page-turning...Hinnefeld's drama soars..."


Cheryl said...

I have not heard of this book before but your review is great.

Anna said...

Sounds like a great book. You certainly convinced me to check it out.

--Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)

Michele said...

There's always something that draws me in about mother-daughter relationships. Not sure what that says about my own! LOL Thanks for the great review.

Anonymous said...

Julie, this book sounds great! I really enjoyed your review.


Wendy said...

Fantastic review, Julie. Thanks for stopping by my Mailbox Monday post this morning and letting me know how much you enjoyed this book. I'm eager to read it!

Anonymous said...

FYI, there are still two days left to join Joyce's Author Chat over at LibraryThing:

Happy Reading!

Sandra said...

I really enjoyed this book too. The birds were a wonderful bonus to a good story I thought. I reviewed it here: